At a slim 82 pages, Cooke delivers a quick, compressed story of Parker trying to stay alive just for one night. Trapped in a closed down amusement park with a bag full of money from an armored car job, Parker only has his wits to evade a bunch of mobsters and crooked cops who just happened to witness him jumping the gates into the park. It’s just one unfortunate event after another that lands Parker in this situation. The freezing night, the time it takes to set his traps and the effort it takes to make it from one side of the park to the other are the beats of this story. Cooke takes his well-honed representation of Parker, an unmovable object that always need to be moving to be alive, and crafts his version of this tale around Parker’s unrelenting survival skills.
Cooke is a sentimental cartoonist even if in the Parker books it is an odd, hardened sentimentality. If you look at at Cooke’s New Frontier, Spirit or Minutemen, the warm, mushy sentimentality there welcomes you into those comics. The softness of his artwork in those comics paints images of your favorite comics that are always there to give you comfort and makes you long for bygone times. In Slayground, the sentimentality is wrapped up in the hardness of the characters. It’s as cold and stiff as the wintery night that Cooke is leading us through. A lot of that is accomplished through the very simple and consistent ice blue hue that shades the whole story. The coldness of the story comes through Cooke’s harsh, bold line and storytelling.
Cooke remains faithful to Westlake’s story without adding any real flair to it. With his steely approach, Cooke’s storytelling becomes an extension of Parker- chilly, hard, focused and unemotional. Parker doesn’t get emotional because he sees his enemies not as people but as just blocks between him and his goal. Cooke remains unemotional about his stories as he creates visual transcripts of Westlake’s books, remaining unerringly true to the text without adding anything that you couldn’t find in the original books. He remains unemotionally cold about the stories because by this fourth book, it feels like we’ve been here before. Cooke brings nothing new to this volume because we’ve seen his approach to storytelling many times already.
Slayground is full of good guys and bad guys but that’s about the extent of character work and motivation. With such little character work, the ending of the book comes quick, making the whole story feel more like a prologue to a larger story. This book is simply a story of a bad man versus even worse men. It lacks the charm of Cooke’s other adaptations because there are no additional flavors sprinkled in with it. There’s no charming accomplices, no intricate plots and no real conflict that’s generated by another more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Parker’s usual accomplices are quickly dispersed in this book and his Parker simply isn’t complex or intriguing enough to carry a story by himself. Without the lack of a clear setup or without being able to witness the careful machinations of Parker, Slayground becomes a series of events without any story for them to support or build up.
Slayground is ultimately an exercise in storytelling without a compelling story to tell. Like Parker, Cooke has the clarity of a vision to execute his plans. Cooke approaches it with a cool calmness and steady hand. He’s one of the most visually interesting cartoonists working right now because of the confidence of his storytelling. But Slayground, like most of his Parker adaptations to one degree or another, lacks any character. The men in Slayground fall into roles, being simply the good, the bad and the ugly. Cooke remains so dedicated to the character of Parker that the shortness of Slayground makes it feel simply like the beginning of a story rather than a complete story itself. Remaining faithful to Westlake, Cooke demonstrates that he can skillfully translate the story to comics without ever creating any new chances within the story to present something new. As the fourth Parker adaptation, Slayground continues the line of well-constructed comics without ever really breaking out from Cooke’s carefully constructed methods for these adaptations.